More Than Half of Americans Live in ‘Child Care Deserts’

with Hailey Gibbs of the Center for American Progress

More than half of Americans live in areas with little or no access to quality child care, known as “child care deserts."

Hailey Gibbs, Senior Policy Analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the current child care crisis, and efforts to improve families’ access to child care.

Posted on:

September 11, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Child care programs are crucial for working families, but for many, access to affordable, quality child care is scarce. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Studies show that more than half of U.S. families live in neighborhoods known as child care deserts, areas with little or no access to quality child care. Joining me to talk all about this crisis is Hailey Gibbs. She is the senior policy analyst for early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. And, Hailey, thank you so much for being here.

Gibbs: Thank you very much for having me.

Anderson: So not everybody has children, but you say that even that group should care about this issue. Why is that?

Gibbs: Absolutely. There are certainly economic consequences for problems accessing child care. The Council for a Strong America found in 2022 that the whole economy loses upwards of $122 billion from lost earnings, tax revenue, productivity when parents have difficulty finding child care. But when we're also thinking about what child care is ultimately for, the kind of service that it performs for families, we're talking about investments that we're making in the next generation, about raising human beings to be productive members of society. And that's a public good that I think affects everyone.

Anderson: And when it comes to parents, I mean, what are some of the barriers they face when trying to actually find quality child care?

Gibbs: Supply certainly is a significant barrier. Living in a child care desert and having to go significantly far out of your way to find a provider if you can find one. Lengthy wait lists, I think, are a significant barrier, and the price of child care is also exorbitant. Child Care Aware of America found in 2022 that the annual average cost of child care for families is about $10,000. That's 10% of a married couples' income, about 30% of a single parent's income. So this is a significant chunk of change that I think presents an impediment to a lot of people.

Anderson: And how much is that $10,000 or so in the scheme of actually raising a child? What part of the cost is that?

Gibbs: It's a significant portion. And that cost, also relative to other expenses that families have to take on, is also a significant impediment. That cost is in most places in the country more than the cost of housing. It's everywhere in the country more than the cost of food, transportation, even healthcare expenses. So when we're talking about the whole constellation of costs that parents take on to run a household and to raise their children, this is not a small portion of that.

Anderson: So is this hitting one community harder than the other? And how important is quality child care when it comes to actually breaking the cycle of poverty that many communities face?

Gibbs: Yeah. So even before the pandemic in 2018, when we were originally collecting these data, more than half of Americans lived in a child care desert. But those impacts are felt disproportionately. It's low-income communities, rural communities, Hispanic communities that find themselves more likely to live in a child care desert than others. And when we're talking about all of the different components of a family's budget that go into raising children, in access to child care, lack of access to child care and those kinds of prohibitive expenses do help to perpetuate a lot of the inequities that we see in those communities already.

Anderson: So your organization is clearly working very hard on this topic. I'm wondering what you're doing now that will make accessing quality child care easier in the future.

Gibbs: Yeah. So like raising a child works best when it's done in a village, we also are part of a broader coalition space involving lots of brilliant people across different organizations doing this work. And we've all coalesced around three primary policy goals. One is to increase supply. We just need more options for families, and that includes families that work nontraditional hours who need services for infants and toddlers, who need services for children with disabilities. So making sure that those options are available to as many people as possible is a primary goal. Bringing down the cost for families is incredibly important. We want to make sure that it takes no more than 7% of a family's income to afford child care. And, of course, we need to be making investments in the child care workforce. This is a skilled workforce doing incredibly valuable work and you can't technology or innovate your way out of having people do that work. So all collectively together, we are coalescing around those priorities.

Anderson: So people are gonna have questions. They're gonna want to know more about what you're doing. What is your website? Where should they look?

Gibbs: Well, our website is We have a special topics page on there specifically for childcare deserts for folks who want to dig into that work quite a bit more. And our Early Childhood Policy team also has a website with more work focused on the child care workforce, on different aspects of children's health and development. So there's a ton to dig into there.

Anderson: Hailey Gibbs with the Center for American Progress, thank you so much for being here.

Gibbs: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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